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 September 14, 2009
Travel Agencies Remain Vital To The Travel Experience, Says Amadeus

 Travel agents are an essential link in the distribution of travel and tourism products, viewed as trusted experts who deliver consumers a great travel experience and peace of mind, according to Peter Smith, Vice President of Amadeus Asia Pacific's Business Solutions Group.

During a recent speaking tour to Osaka and Tokyo, Smith said that brick and mortar travel agencies form an essential part of the distribution chain, as do online travel sellers. Travel agents are particularly relevant in Asia Pacific, where people value and appreciate the personal touch.

"The choices for booking travel could be, on a simple level, compared to those for hosting a dinner," said Smith. "The decision depends on one's degree of involvement and the perceived rewards from that choice. For a casual meal we may simply want convenience foods -- a fuss-free, quick option. Other times, for a special occasion, we may wish to go to a restaurant renowned for great food and service."

"Similarly, for trips like a honeymoon, anniversary or a family gathering, travelers turn to their travel agent, who has the expertise and knowledge to organise trips with a high degree of complexity and personal involvement. You wouldn't buy sushi from a vending machine for a special dinner, and most people wouldn't book an important holiday event online. As long as people are travelling for these kinds of special occasions or are engaged with niche needs such as diving, adventure or specialist touring, there will always be a need for knowledgeable travel agents."

However, Smith pointed out that change is a constant in the travel industry, especially in the volatile Asian region. Travel agencies need to evolve in order to stay ahead of the competition.

Smith suggested two areas where travel agencies should focus their attention:

1. Harness technology for a competitive edge

"Today's challenging economic environment means that cost and efficiency awareness is at an all time high," said Smith. "Agencies need to cut costs while increasing efficiency levels to retain customer loyalty. More travel agencies in the region are recognising the importance of partnering with the right technology experts to improve efficiency and customer service, as well as cut costs."

For example, Amadeus invests more in research and development than any other company in the industry, and develops solutions that target the specific needs of travel agents. One such solution is the Amadeus Custom Desktop, which allows agents to integrate all data and external applications directly into the Amadeus Selling Platform on a single customised display. Agents can thus propose a wider offering, reduce manual errors and save booking processing times. The Amadeus Agency Manager, the travel industry's most widely used mid and back office solution, also automates all internal processes across all agency offices in different countries, enabling improved productivity, service and data quality.

2. Competing with the online channel

Consumers looking for convenience and lower prices are researching and booking directly online, and this is actively encouraged by airlines and other travel providers in order to cut their costs. To date, Amadeus has seen online travel agency bookings in Asia Pacific grow by 21% compared to the same period last year -- this is certainly a business opportunity that travel agencies need to grasp.

One solution is to join the competition by developing a corporate website. With the Amadeus Agency Internet Engine, Amadeus is helping many travel agencies of different sizes to quickly and easily build an effective website enabling travel bookings and searches online -- making it convenient and easy for customers to reach them.

Travel agencies also need to differentiate themselves effectively from the online channel, by being more than just travel order-takers.. "Agents can offer customers expert advice and personal service that a generalist website cannot provide -- hence the continued demand for travel agents in this digital age," said Smith.

Travel agencies can reinforce this demand by offering personalised service, understanding the specific needs of consumers and selling themselves as expert consultants. To do this, they need to demonstrate a keen understanding of customer needs and the shifts in the travel sector, and deliver superior service.

"As more agencies realise the need for change, they also recognise the integral role of technology toward their success. Amadeus will continue to support travel agencies by providing IT solutions that will give them a differentiating edge and help them stay relevant in the industry," Smith concluded.